Nonylphenol (NP) exposure in Germany between 1991 and 2021: Urinary biomarker analyses in the German Environmental Specimen Bank (ESB)
Ringbeck, B.; Weber, T.; Bury, D.; Kasper-Sonnenberg, M.; Palmke, C.; Bruning, T.; Koch, H. M.; Kolossa-Gehring, M.
Int J Hyg Environ Health 245 (2022), 114010; online: 5 August 2022
Nonylphenol (NP) is a high production volume chemical with a wide range of uses, e.g. in NP ethoxylates (NPEO). NP and NPEO have become ubiquitous in the environment and are considered of concern due to their general ecotoxicity and endocrine disrupting properties. However, knowledge on human exposure is scarce.
In this study, we analyzed novel NP metabolites (OH-NP and oxo-NP) as robust biomarkers of exposure in 24h-urine samples from the German Environmental Specimen Bank (ESB). This enables us to reliably determine the individual NP body burden and to retrospectively evaluate NP exposure over the past 30 years. We analyzed 660 urine samples from eleven sampling years between 1991 and 2021. All samples were from young German adults between 20 and 29 years of age. OH-NP was quantifiable in all samples until 2017. In 2019 and 2021, the frequency of samples above the LOQ dropped to 90% and 77%, respectively. Median OH-NP concentrations significantly decreased from 4.32 mug/L in 1991 to 0.70 mug/L in 2021. OH-NP and oxo-NP levels correlated strongly, but oxo-NP concentrations and detections were considerably lower, in line with its known lower metabolic conversion. Reverse dosimetry back-calculated daily intakes (DI) of NP, based on OH-NP, decreased by almost a factor of four from medians of 0.16 mug/(kg bw*d) in 1991 to 0.04 mug/(kg bw*d) in 2021, respectively. The major drop took place only after 2012. This came as a surprise, because strict restrictions had been enacted much earlier in the EU, in 2003. All NP DIs were below the provisional tolerable daily intake of 5 mug/(kg bw*d) from the Danish Environmental Agency. DIs back-calculated from the ESB biomonitoring data agree well with calculations from food. This indicates to contaminated foodstuff as a major source of exposure.
The time lag of regulatory restrictions to decreasing human exposure levels, the general lack of knowledge on exposure levels in susceptible populations such as children, and the ongoing worldwide use of NP underline the urgent need to continue monitoring NP exposures in Germany and worldwide. With these novel NP biomarkers, we provide a robust and sensitive tool for exposure and risk assessments, complementing environmental monitoring.